More Than Serving Tea


Happy unEqual Pay Day

By the time most of you read this, working women across America will just be starting to earn their wages for 2012 because until Tuesday, April 17, we were working hard to catch up to what men earned in 2011.

Did you catch that?

Women who work outside of the home had to work 15.5 months to earn what men earned in 12. That is bad math, my friends. And it makes me tired.

“Happy unEqual Pay Day”. 

Woo hoo.

Part of my working-for-pay-mom weariness is that during the past few weeks another wave of the Mommy Wars erupted over comments made by and responses to comments made by a politician’s wife, pitting women against women – those who work for pay outside of the home and those who don’t, a.k.a stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs).

Some want to argue this as a cultural and moral issue – whether or not women, and specifically mothers, working outside of the home, are “good” for children and society as a whole.

Others want to keep this to a policy issue – whether or not the government should be mandating or even guaranteeing rights and privileges.

And then those of us who fall under the broad banner of “Christian” may hold to varying degrees of how the Bible looks at all of this.

It leaves me tired. And sad. And angry. It’s not one thing or another. It’s not simple, even if you really, really, really want it to be simple because whether or not a woman (a mother or not) is working outside of the home, or whether or not you believe she should even be working outside of the home, she still needs to work longer and harder to earn the same average amount as a man.

And “she” isn’t just someone out there. “She” is the one typing this post and also many readers of this post.

It reminds me a bit of  what my parents and grandmother used to say to me when I was younger.

“KyoungAh (my real name), you have to work harder and do better than they do (Americans=White people) so they know you are the same as they are, even though you are better.”

This was while I learned in my Korean immigrant experience that as a Korean girl I had to work harder than the boys because no one would want a stupid, lazy, ugly daughter-in-law who didn’t go to a good college and learn how to peel fruit and serve tea.

And that was before I knew about unEqual Pay Day, which spans all degrees of melanin and should serve to remind all of us that the system is broken for all of us – men and women. As a Christ-follower, I continue to wrestle with what the Apostle Paul wrote:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I Cor. 12:26 TNIV

Last week I was grateful to gather at a table of leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to talk about how leadership is impacted by both gender and ethnicity. These leaders, who all happened to be women, listened and shared about the complexity of growing in leadership being fully present as women of color. I realize that not all would include Asian Americans within the circle of women of color, but in this conversation we were. We all understood that even as we discuss “women’s issues” there is an additional layer, nuancing and gift of experience we bring.

We tried, if for only an hour, to listen, to suffer, to honor and to rejoice with one another.

So I’ll acknowledge my weariness, take a nap, and get back to it. And I invite all of my brothers and sister of all races and ethnicities to share in one another’s burdens and to imagine and perhaps share some thoughts, stories, ideas of what it looks like to carry this burden with one another.

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Working Mothers: You Are Not Crazy

*Note: I wrote this a few days ago, and then I hesitated to publish this because it seemed whiny. Well, it is. Sort of. It’s my whiny and I’ll hit “publish” if I dare to.

All mothers (and fathers) work, and it is hard, rewarding, amazing, humbling work.

But this is for those of us mothers who also have a job outside of the home.

Am I crazy? I’m not trying to be superwoman, right? We aren’t crazy. Today is just one of those days. Please, someone out there tell me  you know what I’m talking about.

In the past few weeks I have spent a few extra hours talking, laughing, crying and raising my fist in solidarity with other working moms who are scheduling meetings around nursing schedules and feedings and school pick-up and drop-off times while I was juggling a sick kid at home during a home office day and conference calls.

Just this morning, both my boys claimed illness before I had had a chance to make myself a cup of coffee. My husband had to go into the office by a certain time and since my office is downstairs I got the delightful job of trying to gently cajole and then outright threaten them with cancelled play dates to get out of bed.

Boys 2, Mom 0.

Maybe they really are sick?

I try not to get angry at my husband as he leaves. I know he worries about the boys, and he feels bad that I have to stay home and reschedule meetings and phone calls, write deep and moving blogposts, close the books on a training seminar day, finish some work-related reading on leadership and diversity while tending to two boys who will spend the rest of the day complaining about being bored because the fever never materialized. And in the midst of that I can’t get past the crumbs all over the counters and table and floors, but I will manage to get past the clean laundry sitting in a pile on the couch.

I’ll just move it when I need to collapse later.

I try not to get angry that when he comes home he gets to “help” me, which I know he doesn’t mean it  in that way but when I’m tired and cranky (for those of you with young children, you will still have tired and cranky moments with teenagers because by then you are older and have a lower threshold) I can’t stand the fact that he gets to “help” me as if the expectation is that it’s all my job – the kids, the home, the job outside of the home – and he gets to help.

I remember a few times having to listen to both men and women marvel at how Peter managed at home with the baby and then the two kids and now three kids while I traveled. One person even used the term “babysitting”.

Babysitting?

Fathers do not babysit their own children!

And while I do have fun on my business trips (if you love what you do and respect and enjoy the company of the people you work with and for work can be fun), it’s still work.

I try not to get angry, because we both have chosen this lifestyle and agreed that for the time being I will bring in some bacon and fry it up in a pan even though as a woman I need to work 23% more to earn at the same rate as my husband. I try not to get angry, but I certainly have moments where I feel crazy. Today is just one of those days.

And to top it off, I gave up nail polish and candy for Lent…

Gotta go. The little guy is hungry.


Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.


The Balancing Act

Hollywood isn’t real life, but when real life (mine and the lives of the actors) and Hollywood converge it is great fodder for thinking and conversation. Peter and I can’t stop talking about last night’s date night movie, “Up in the Air”, starring Vera Farmiga and George Clooney.

IMBD’s movie description: With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.

My oversimplified movie description: Ryan Bingham has a midlife crisis.

But I’m not so focused on Ryan Bingham (that’s for another post). What I am still thinking about is how I was drawn to Alex Goran, played by real-life mom and wife Vera Farmiga. Alex is a strong, confident, beautiful, sexy (but not slutty, for the most part), successful, intelligent business woman whose opening exchange with Ryan had me and Peter talking about power dynamics into the wee hours of the morning. (Peter and I really are a fun couple.)

Women have a different balancing act than men, especially in the corporate world, in terms of how they communicate through their words, body language and even the way they dress and carry their sexuality. Times are changing, but Equal Pay Day, when women finally catch up to what men earned the year before still isn’t until April 10, 2010. We’ve come a long way, but it’s still not a level playing field, which is in part why the length of the skirt, firmness of the handshake and awareness of the hair flipping matters. You  may not agree with the rules, but there are rules. Changing them means knowing them first.

As a Christian woman who works in the tension of a management position in a Christian missions organization, my concerns and thoughts on “dressing for success” can either be dismissed as being superficial and too concerned with “the world” or hijacked by important and related conversations about women’s roles, marriage and parenting (and then get into the messier conversations about whether or not a mom should get a paycheck for her work, whether or not a woman can lead other men over the age of 18, whether or not women can be women without tempting men) while ignoring the obvious truths. God gave all of us, men and women, more than one sense in which we interact with the world and, therefore, people. Sight gives us literal lenses through which we make judgments and assumptions. Hearing allows us to interpret tone and volume and pace. Even smells, touch and taste play into the ways we interact with one another and how that affects success and effectiveness. Again, understanding and awareness is not the same as agreement with said rules.

Successful women are often portrayed in both Hollywood and real life as the “byatch”. The stereotypes are easy: successful women essentially act like men but happen to have breasts or they are women who have used their breasts to gain access. Even in scripture we have to wrestle and understand the cultural norms and stereotypes of women as we interact with Ruth and Naomi, Queen Esther and even Mary the mother of Jesus along with the unnamed sinful woman and the woman at the well. When Bible teachers and trainers are asked to teach on leadership, where do they turn? I turn to those women.

I digress.

The reality is a balancing act of trying to embrace our leadership, our femininity, our voice alone and alongside men. Personally I struggle and am confused when colleagues describe me as being “motherly” and describe other male colleagues as “pastoral”. I don’t want to be overly vain and concerned about my appearance but I’m not going to pretend that my appearance doesn’t matter to others or myself.

Which is why I found Alex as a character fascinating. Alex, from what little we know, is neither a man with breasts or a “byatch”. When the younger female character Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, is in crisis Alex listens and speaks frankly without cattiness. Alex is a woman who has, in some sense, arrived in the corporate world and in midlife, unlike the younger Natalie. Alex was a woman comfortable with her sexuality, success and choices and Natalie was still struggling to figure out what her choices would be, how she would view success and how her gender would play into those choices.

Twenty years ago I was Natalie, and I suspect I would not have resonated with the movie or the characters in the same way, which is why I say go watch “Up in the Air”. Hollywood gave me 109 minutes of entertainment and lots about reality – past, present and future – to think about.


Passing Up A Chance of a Lifetime For A Chance of a Lifetime

I am an expert in kicking myself in the butt. For those of you who live life without regrets, this is not the blog post for you, friend. My life has been messy and beautiful and full of poor choices and better choices shaded by the inability to make decisions. I am grateful for the moments of perfect clarity and timing, but those are few and far between.

Some of those decisions rank low in the “change my life” category, like the beautiful red coat I spotted on the rack, tried on, considered buying and then decided against it hoping it would go on sale. The coat went on sale but out of stock in my size. That was more than 20 years ago, and every now and then I’ll kick myself in the butt for being practical to a fault (how many coats does a girl need?).

Other decisions are weightier . Will I stay home and put my career on hold when we start having children? How will we care for aging parents? How will we choose a church?

So when two opportunities of a lifetime vied for prime real estate on my calendar this fall I found myself in a familiar place – full of gratitude and momentarily full of whining.

Opportunity #1: to be home to see our children (and myself) through a major transition. This fall our oldest child is headed to high school. (Yes, I know. I don’t look old enough to have a child in high school. Yes, time has gone by quickly. Yes, she is nervous and Peter and I are too.)  This fall our second child is headed to middle school. (Yes, we’re a little nervous. We’re not sure if he’s nervous, but neither is he.) And, our youngest, will be in 3rd grade and not have an older sibling at school. (Yes, he is excited and nervous, and so are we.)

Opportunity #2: to be one of 4,000 leaders from around the world to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, Cape Town 2010.

I know. Poor me.

I was honored & humbled to be invited to participate, and amazed at the opportunity to be a part of an international discussion on the critical issues we are facing and how they relate to the future of the Church. This was never in the career plans.

But after the thrill came the realities of the opportunity, the largest hurdle was time. Saying “yes” to #1 meant seeing my family through a once-in-a-lifetime transition, with the possibilities ranging from full of drama to smooth as butter. Saying “yes” to #2 meant being a part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a learn from international leaders and be a part of conversations that have a global impact. Raising money to attend and travel was one thing, but no one was going to be able to give me my time back.

All parents have to make choices weighing the pros and cons, comparing time and money against opportunities gained and lost. I have never been able to separate my statuses as Asian American Christian working mom and wife from one another, and this decision pulled on me in all directions and pushed all the right buttons.

When you say “no” to something, you are leaving open space to say “yes” to other things. That is what I tell other ministry colleagues, friends and even my family. In a culture and society that often screams “more is better”, saying “yes” to every good opportunity makes sense. Seize the moment. Carpe diem. No regrets. The phrases sound good and are wonderfully inspiring, perfect for a bumper sticker or status update.

But reality, at least the whole, big picture of reality, doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker. Saying “no” can feel foolish. Saying “yes” can feel selfish. It’s all so messy, isn’t it?

So, I thought I knew within a week which opportunity to say “yes” to because I saw once-in-a-lifetime one way. It wasn’t wrong, but a month later it didn’t feel right. I needed to let go of some angst, deal with ambition and self-image issues, figure out what space I was going to leave in my life and how to draw the margins.

This fall 4,000 leaders from around the world will gather in Cape Town, South Africa and I will watch Bethany become a high schooler, Corban become a middle schooler, and Elias become a third grader. I will not be discussing issues facing the Church, but I will be discussing scheduling challenges facing a family headed in five different directions. I will not be with thousands of international leaders, but I will be with three future leaders who will probably be running a little late or needing a little help and teaching me a few things about life in the process.

It is a once in a lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.


Martha, Martha. Today is Not Cupcake Day.

Even if there were 25 hours in a day there still wouldn’t be enough time to do the things I want to get done – never mind the things that need to get done.

This morning took the cake. Cupcakes actually. My three children are currently at two schools – the middle school and the elementary school. Each school has its own set of activities and fundraisers, and I feel compelled to help when I can. Isn’t that what good parents do? Correction. Isn’t that what good moms do? As a mom who works full-time outside of the home, I’ve been able to take advantage of my flexible hours and home office to get some in-school volunteer opportunities, but on the whole I’m a shoe-in if you need a case of water for a luncheon.

This morning I thought I was delivering in order two dozen cupcakes for 8th grade cupcake day by 8:30 a.m., assorted baked goods individually wrapped for the 5th grade bake sale anytime after noon, and 200 napkins and a loaf of crusty french bread for the middle school teacher dinner after 3 p.m.

Today is not cupcake day.

All I could hear in my head after Peter came back from grabbing the orange-frosted cupcakes from Bethany (who was red-faced after her dad walked into band to free her from babysitting cupcakes all day) was Jesus:

“Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41, 42 TNIV

I want my kids to know that I care about them and their school – cupcakes, assorted baked goods individually wrapped, napkins and crusty french bread kind of care for them. I need to feel connected to what is going on at the place where my kids spend most of their waking hours. I want to do what I can when I can because I already know the dates on the calendar where my roles collide.

But on this morning I was reminded that today is not cupcake day. I am worried and upset about many things – the laundry, the e-mails, the phone calls, the mess in the family room/kitchen/bedroom.

How on this morning will I sit and choose the better thing?


When Your Star Shines Brighter

When the idea of a group of Asian American women writing a book about faith, gender and culture started out with a snowball’s chance in hell, I had one fleeting thought that unnerved and annoyed me: What if this book actually gets published? Will my husband be OK with my success?

Somewhere in quiet, indirect messages I grew up to understand that boys were preferred over girls and smart, successful girls are scary or, even worse, undesireable.

It’s not that I thought two chapters in a book would launch my New York Times Bestseller literary career. But I understood that in the ministry world I’m in being a published author opens up opportunities that may have taken a lot more to open in the past. This is no time for false humility. After spending five years in the marketplace and then nearly a decade in ministry part-time, loving and learning from college students while raising a young family, my star was rising.

It is no small feat to be able to write a statement like that. Culturally there is no place for self-promotion – self-effacing comments, maybe. And by culturally I mean having grown up with a certain brand of Korean-American spirituality/fundamentalist/evangelicalism that let me know that under no circumstances was I to take credit for anything that I happened to achieve or fail. 

Good grades? I was lucky, or God pulled through. A promotion at work? I was lucky, or God had a plan. A big project flops? Bummer, or it wasn’t God’s will. Oversimplified? Without a doubt.

I will say here that my husband has been very supportive, but even then the kind of comments he would field while I traveled hinted at the audacity of what I was doing – pursuing a rising career. Men and women would gush over his willingness to babysit the kids while I was away writing or speaking, as if he had granted me a favor. Men at church would joke about “letting” me have so much time away from him and the kids. Women would ask how I could spend so much time away from my family.

It was as if my rising star needed to be explained away as an anomaly or excused as a luxury.

I’m not sure if it’s the sudden change in weather that is making me a bit cranky these days. I’m pretty sure it’s because over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a few other women who have wrestled with being a supportive wife and present mother who has an opportunity to stretch her wings and fly a bit. And maybe my fuse for this internal conversation is growing short…I want to respond graciously when I’m asked about the toll of my travel schedule on my family (because I really do agonize over it). I want to respond confidently when I’m asked about my ability to speak to a large audience about matters of faith and life. But I know I’m cranky.

Anyone else cranky out there?


Working Mommy=Unhealthier Kids? Work, Parenting, Calling & Roles

I’m always telling my children that they have the “meanest mommy in the whole wide world” but apparently I now have proof that they are pretty lucky kids.

According to a new study out of Britain, researchers have found that children of mothers who work full-time were the unhealthiest of the bunch. The second group of unhealthy kids belonged to part-time working moms.

Why? Because those kids ate more sweets, chips and sweetened drinks in between meals and spent more time than did their stay-at-home-mom-kids counterparts.

Hey, Bethany, Corban & Elias! Stop whining! You may have spending limits on clothing, and restrictions on the types of movies you are allowed to watch, but YOU get more sweets, chips, high fructose corn syrup enhanced drinks & tv/computer time than your friends whose moms do not work outside of the home. I have research to back this up!

I told you you were lucky to have the meanest mommy in the whole wide world!

Studies like this frustrate me to no end. Apparently fathers and their presence or lack thereof is irrelevant. Because their working trends have not changed significantly since the stone ages or so, it is obviously up to women to stay at home and raise healthy children. Razzle, frazzle.

I have worked outside of the home since Bethany was born (minus the first six months of her life when I was recovering from nearly bleeding to death, but that’s another story for another day). I may have been a career-driven 20-something, but when I was holding Bethany, and then Corban and Elias, in my arms I did not care whether or not I would see another byline again.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be a SAHM (stay at home mom) and to never feel that work gets the very best of me on some days while my children get the tired, worn out version of me. I have listened to SAHMs who refer rather wistfully to my “trips” away to exotic destinations like Madison, WI; Champaign-Urbana, IL; and Cedarville, MI. (OK, Seattle and SoCal are better!) What we’ve learned in living the journey together: the grass is always greener on the other side if all you’re doing is looking at the other side.

I’m in my 14th year of parenting with a lifetime to go and thousands of years of Korean American cultural baggage of guilt and shame with a splash of Christian fundamentalism to weigh me down. I do not have the energy nor the desire anymore to take on more false guilt or spend energy frustrated over things I cannot change. That is how I do it.

For those of you moms out there, what have you done to make it “work” for you and your family – whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside of the home? What about your situation has frustrated you or made you feel guilty or even envious of the other side and how have you dealt with it?

And out of curiosity, what do you think? Are kids with SAHMs better off?  Are kids with moms who work outside of the home better off? Does it have to be an either or?